REVIEW: DVD Release: Ong Bak 3

Film: Ong Bak 3
Release date: 11th October 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: TBC mins
Director: Tony Jaa & Panna Rittikrai
Starring: Tony Jaa, Supakorn Kitsuwon, Dan Chupong, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Petchtai Wongkamlao
Genre: Action/Martial Arts
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Country: Thailand

Tony Jaa returns in the eagerly anticipated follow up to Ong Bak 2. Jaa’s confused prequel to the original Ong Bak divided audiences and nearly ruined his career; does this threequel redeem both Jaa and the Ong Bak saga? Or is it another missed opportunity.

After his arduous journey to avenge the death of his father, Tien is captured by Lord Rajasena and sentenced to death. Undergoing a series of horrific tortures, Tien is broken and crippled until his death seems inevitable. However, Tien is rescued by Master Bua and begins a long physical and spiritual recovery.

Meanwhile, Lord Rajasena is slowly going mad from a curse placed on him after he seized power of the province. He seeks refuge from the Crow Ghost, who promptly refuses, kills the evil lord and usurps his throne.

Holding a personal grudge against Tien, the Crow Ghost eagerly await’s the warrior’s recovery so they can do battle for the final time…

In 2003, Ong Bak exploded onto the martial arts scene with all the severity of an elbow to the face. Arriving in a time when wire-fu was the chosen method for dust ups in mainstream action cinema, it heralded a return to the brutal realism that made eastern fight films so popular in the first place. A paean to the old school, Ong Bak also introduced us to the wonderful Tony Jaa, who, in his own unassuming way, assured himself a place in the martial arts pantheon.

A sequel followed in 2008, with Jaa in the director’s chair. Although Onk Bak 2 suffered from a turbulent production that nearly ended Jaa’s career, it remains a solid follow up despite its many flaws - and is by no means the disaster many paint it to be.

Jaa returns in Ong Bak 3 to conclude the story of Tien, who, for all intents and purposes, is a spiritual ancestor of Ong Bak’s Ting. So, is this threequel as messy and self indulgent as its predecessor? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding yes. Ong Bak 3 marks itself as the weakest in the trilogy, due to its confused story and horribly uneven pacing.

The second film in the series, while not as bone crunchingly brutal as the first, still boasted some bravura fight sequences to distract from all the muddy period detail and karmic plot contrivances. The big mistake with Ong Bak 3 is that it dials down the fighting even further, to make room for Tien’s redemptive character arc.

Starting the film as a tortured captive, Tien is then rescued and spends the next hour recovering from his ordeal. Along the way he has numerous spiritual crises, contemplates suicide, grows a number of fetching beards, and generally falls over a lot. The recovery arc is all well and good for a martial arts epic, especially one whose characters the viewer is already heavily invested in, but when it’s as long and drawn out as this, there is danger of alienating the core audience.

Thank god then for Dan Chupong’s energetic performance as Crow Ghost. A minor adversary for Tien in Ong Bak 2, Crow Ghost graduates to fully fledged villain in the threequel. It’s his supernatural displays of fighting prowess that manage to keep the films latter half from bottoming out - many will find it tempting to fast forward past all the beardy soul searching and get to the next Crow fight. Yet even Chupong’s performance suffers from a lack of narrative clarity. Why does Crow Ghost go from creepy cave dweller to power hungry tyrant in the blink of an eye? Why does he have such a vicious vendetta against Tien? When he assumes power of the throne, why does he take off that fetching black cloak? All of these questions and more are left unanswered; it’s almost as if Jaa and Rittikrai didn’t feel the need to explain themselves, deciding instead to just bombard us with a series of random events.

It seems tradition in Tony Jaa films now for the film’s final act to be one giant primal scream from the pint sized fighter - it’s just unfortunate that the climactic brawl at the end of Ong Bak 3 is tarnished somewhat by the previous eighty minutes. A clever stylistic twist means that we get two endings for the price of one but even that can’t seem to sate after such an arduous build up. Ong Bak 3 is ultimately a well executed failure - perhaps Jaa should stick to being in front of the camera for future projects.

Tony Jaa presents us with another lovingly crafted misfire, replete with Buddhist mysticism and themes of redemption, but sadly not much else. There are fights, and they are impressive, but nothing here compares with the magisterial action present in the first film. Ong Bak 3 isn’t really a bad film, it’s just a bad martial arts film. KT

1 comment:

  1. WHAT IS TONY JAA DOING???!!! It's like he hasn't got a clue what made him so successful in the first place. All we want his to see him kick ass in the most realistic and brutal way possible. He needs to forget all the other nonsense before he blows his whole career